April 30th, 2021
MOVIE: THE VIRTUOSO
STARRING: ANSON MOUNT, ABBIE CORNISH, ANTHONY HOPKINS, DAVID MORSE
DIRECTED BY: NICK STAGLIANO
AMovieGuy.com’s RATING: 1 ½ STARS (Out of 4)
One of the typical conversations about cinema is the use of narration. When is it good to use? Is it necessary in a visual medium? Can it add to a narrative and when has it been done right. Case in point, Goodfellas is the quintessential film with narration, where it soaks into the action, like an audiobook, heightening our senses and not dulling them. Then there is the original cut of Blade Runner, which had narration added after, with a bored, monotone Harrison Ford dragging down any energy that the film had. And then there is this movie The Virtuoso, which might have set the record for the most narrating a movie has ever had. Director Nick Stagliano is attempting to make a cool, Quentin Tarantino-style thriller, about a hitman and his mystery target, putting bad people into a room and seeing who comes out alive. The Virtuoso is going for cool brooding and noir-style swagger, but the final result is a tedious and sloppy production, lacking in a sense of control.
The narration starts right away, introducing us to The Virtuoso (Anson Mount), a mysterious and ice cold hitman, expertly doing his job of killing someone, while telling us all the tricks to how to be a good hitman. Our “hero” works for The Mentor (played briefly by Anthony Hopkins), the next job turns into an absolute debacle, where an innocent bystander is killed by an exploding car, which shakes our Virtuoso up. The Mentor meets him in a cemetery to tell him about his newest target, but not without Hopkins diving into a long, rambling monologue story about killing innocent people in war, being in the jungle, because it was the right thing to do. He then finally tells Virtuoso that he needs to go to a small town to kill someone, with only a single clue of “White River”, but it’s a final job that must be done.
How The Virtuoso continues from there is not without its intrigue. The direction by Nick Stagliano feels like an old school 80’s riff, or vaguely inspired by James Mangold’s hotel mystery thriller Identity, only the characters are few and there’s not much mystery. The Virtuoso arrives at a diner, where we meet Dixie (Abbie Cornish), the friendly waitress, the deputy (David Morse), a loner in the corner (Eddie Marsan), and a squirrely looking guy named Johnnie (Richard Brake). Any one of them could be the target, but how the hitman goes about figuring that out becomes a big sloppy mess. People are killed, shots are fired, some characters are not who they say they are, and the rest is quite predictable. The writing by James C. Wolf also seems to think highly of itself while also thinking we’re too dumb to understand character depth. The narration sometimes repeats exactly what the audience is seeing on the screen, while the conversations are deep, gravely diatribes, trying to convey a type neo-noir film, only nothing about The Virtuoso is cool.
There’s clearly something there within The Virtuoso, but along the way the director and the writer seemed on separate pages, while some actors only read their parts, not truly understanding the relationships the characters should have. The age old adage of “Keep it simple stupid” often comes into my mind. If you remove the narration in this thing it’s a slightly better movie. I am all for thrillers with various characters in a room trying to figure out a killer. Bad Times at the El Royale was the perfect example of how that movie still works.
What I am getting at is that The Virtuoso is disappointing and could have had something. Lead actor Anson Mount has an interesting look to him, a cold stare that makes him a perfect choice to play the mystery man. Abbie Cornish also has a chance to relish in the role as the waitress looking for a man to take her away from a small town, using her seduction to push buttons, and reveal a bit more mystery along the way. Sadly, it just seems that The Virtuoso was primed to be entertaining and decided to play an entirely different tune.
THE VIRTUOSO ARRIVES IN SELECT THEATERS AND ON VOD FRIDAY APRIL
1 ½ STARS
WRITTEN BY: Leo Brady